Sunday, May 14, 2006

Birdathon 2006

On Saturday the DC Audubon "City Flickers" toured DC birding sites to see as many birds as possible within a single day. I am still a little worn out from the full day of birding. We were lucky to have cooperative weather. Though the sky threatened ominously at several points, we never did get rain. Our goal was to see 100 species, an achievable but challenging number.

The City Flickers - Mike, Denise, and I - gathered at the nature center in Rock Creek Park at 5:30 am. Though it was still dark, many birds were already singing. From the parking lot, we heard american robin, wood thrush, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, and others. We heard an eastern phoebe calling near the horse center. In the maintenance yard, bats were still winging after insects as we began looking for birds. A lingering blue-headed vireo (my first for the year) perched out in the open. Red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, black-throated blue warbler, northern parula, and indigo bunting sang in the yard. Common yellowthroats and swamp sparrows darted in and out of the knotweed.

Back at the nature center, we found our other thrushes for the day. Veery and Swainson's patrolled the underbrush of the median strip. Eastern bluebirds flew to and from a nestbox. The loop trail produced blackpoll, blackburnian, and yellow-rumped warblers. An unusual buzzy song from deeper in the woods caused some disagreement - was it black-throated blue or black-throated green? After consulting some recordings, we decided it was neither; in reality it was a cerulean warbler song, sounding somewhat like a speeded-up black-throated blue song.

The "dog run" at Military Road was good for more warblers: magnolia, black-and-white, and redstart, as well as a baltimore oriole. Our mascot bird, a northern flicker, flew across the field with its golden underwings gleaming in the sunlight. A quick stop at Picnic Areas 17/18 revealed a chestnut-sided warbler and a fine-looking scarlet tanager. A mourning warbler reported last week failed to appear in its usual spot. Other warblers that were reported late last week failed to show themselves as well. It seems that many species in the early May wave of migrants have now moved on.

When we left Rock Creek Park around 9:30 am, we had already recorded 54 species. On the drive to our next stop, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, we picked up three more: great blue heron, canada goose, and rock pigeon. Kenilworth was mostly devoid of human visitors when we arrived, leaving us alone with the birds. Taking the river trail first, we quickly heard prothonotary warbler, white-eyed, and yellow-throated vireos. In fact, we would hear several prothonotary warblers singing along our route. As we rounded a bend in the trail, a small heron flushed from the ground and landed on a branch - yellow-crowned night-heron! Legions of cedar waxwings buzzed from a mulberry tree.

Several shorebirds walked the dikes between the impoundments. Most were spotted sandpipers but at least one solitary was among them. A greater yellowlegs flushed from a pond, but unfortunately it left to quickly for all of us to identify it, so it could not count for the list. The same went for a killdeer. A green heron flushed from one of them. We finally saw our first hawk for the day around noon, a red-shouldered hawk under constant harassment from crows and other birds.

Refreshed by a quick lunch, we looked for grassland species at Kenilworth Park. The back area yielded field sparrow, killdeer, and blue grosbeak. It also yielded a powerful stench in an area close to the Pepco plant. One osprey flew overhead, bringing our diurnal raptor total to 2. When we stopped at the other parking lot to check out the no-mow area, a large flock of dark birds flew in and settled in the tall grass. As we approached, the flock rose from the field and flew towards the aquatic gardens, but not before giving identifiable looks. They were males with creamy heads and white rumps, and warm orange brown females - bobolinks! The no-mow area also yielded a savannah sparrow and an eastern meadowlark.

After Kenilworth Park, our species count stood at 86. From there on, our big day was a mop-up operation to find specific species that we missed earlier. Kingman Island produced a double-crested cormorant and ring-billed gull - common birds, but to that point unseen. Poplar Point at the south end of Anacostia Park yielded laughing gull and a very late american black duck, as well as an orchard oriole and house wren. From Anacostia Park we headed west across town. A drive by MacMillan Reservoir produced nothing. Stops along the C&O Canal were more productive. The sycamores at Fletcher's Boathouse yielded warbling vireo, ruby-throated hummingbird, and (finally) a house finch. A couple black-crowned night-herons worked a nearby stream. At the Chain Bridge, we failed to find any new species, but we had the pleasure of seeing a flyover yellow-crowned night-heron.

We ended the day in the place where we began it, Rock Creek Park. A stop along Broad Branch Road produced a louisiana waterthrush, which we watched as it worked its way from one rock to the next. Elsewhere in the park, we caught sight of a barred owl. It sat and looked around as the songbirds in the area went crazy. When it departed into the deepening gloom, the chattering quieted down considerably. An evening stop at the maintenance yard brought us common nighthawks. At that point we were at 99 species. To break 100 would require some night birding. A stop in one open field produced displaying american woodcocks, who displayed in response to a great-horned owl recording. At another location, three or four eastern screech owls responded to a taped call, with all calling back and forth at the same time. Clearly the screech owl population appears to be thriving.

With that, we packed it in for the night. In sixteen hours of almost non-stop birding, we found 101 species of birds. With better luck at Rock Creek in the morning and more convenient tide times we could have seen even more than that. If you notice from the list below, we somehow missed red-tailed hawk and all other diurnal raptors, as well as black vulture, both yellowlegs, all terns, rose-breasted grosbeak, and several warbler species that are usually easy to find. Despite the misses, this was an event to celebrate Washington's avian diversity and varied habitats. As you can see from the list below, our team met that goal handily.

SpeciesLocation First Seen
Ducks, Geese, and Cormorants
Canada GooseKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Wood DuckRock Creek Park
MallardRock Creek Park
American Black DuckAnacostia Park
Double-crested CormorantKingman Island
Great Blue HeronKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Green HeronKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Black-crowned Night-heronFletcher's Boathouse
Yellow-crowned Night-heronKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Vultures and Hawks
Turkey VultureKenilworth Park
OspreyKenilworth Park
Red-shouldered HawkKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
KilldeerKenilworth Park
Solitary SandpiperKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Spotted SandpiperKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
American WoodcockRock Creek Park
Ring-billed GullKingman Island
Laughing GullAnacostia Park
Doves and Cuckoos
Rock PigeonKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Mourning DoveRock Creek Park
Yellow-billed CuckooKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Eastern Screech-owlRock Creek Park
Barred OwlRock Creek Park
Nightjars and Swifts
Common NighthawkRock Creek Park
Chimney SwiftRock Creek Park
Hummingbirds and Kingfishers
Ruby-throated HummingbirdFletcher's Boathouse
Belted KingfisherKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Red-bellied WoodpeckerRock Creek Park
Downy WoodpeckerRock Creek Park
Hairy WoodpeckerKenilworth Park
Northern FlickerRock Creek Park
Pileated WoodpeckerKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Tyrant Flycatchers
Eastern Wood-peweeRock Creek Park
Acadian FlycatcherRock Creek Park
Eastern PhoebeRock Creek Park
Great Crested FlycatcherKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Eastern KingbirdKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
White-eyed VireoKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Yellow-throated VireoKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Blue-headed VireoRock Creek Park
Warbling VireoFletcher's Boathouse
Red-eyed VireoRock Creek Park
Crows and Jays
Blue JayRock Creek Park
American CrowRock Creek Park
Fish CrowKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Tree SwallowKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Northern Rough-winged SwallowKenilworth Park
Barn SwallowKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Chickadees and Nuthatches
Carolina ChickadeeRock Creek Park
Tufted TitmouseRock Creek Park
White-breasted NuthatchRock Creek Park
Wrens and Gnatcatchers
Carolina WrenRock Creek Park
House WrenAnacostia Park
Blue-gray GnatcatcherRock Creek Park
Eastern BluebirdRock Creek Park
VeeryRock Creek Park
Swainson's ThrushRock Creek Park
Wood ThrushRock Creek Park
American RobinRock Creek Park
Gray CatbirdRock Creek Park
Northern MockingbirdRock Creek Park
Brown ThrasherRock Creek Park
Starlings and Waxwings
European StarlingRock Creek Park
Cedar WaxwingKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Wood Warblers
Northern ParulaRock Creek Park
Yellow WarblerKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Chestnut-sided WarblerRock Creek Park
Magnolia WarblerRock Creek Park
Black-throated Blue WarblerRock Creek Park
Yellow-rumped WarblerRock Creek Park
Blackburnian WarblerRock Creek Park
Blackpoll WarblerRock Creek Park
Cerulean WarblerRock Creek Park
Black-and-white WarblerRock Creek Park
American RedstartRock Creek Park
Prothonotary WarblerKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
OvenbirdRock Creek Park
Louisiana WaterthrushRock Creek Park
Common YellowthroatRock Creek Park
Hooded WarblerRock Creek Park
Scarlet TanagerRock Creek Park
Eastern TowheeRock Creek Park
Chipping SparrowRock Creek Park
Field SparrowKenilworth Park
Savannah SparrowKenilworth Park
Song SparrowRock Creek Park
Swamp SparrowRock Creek Park
White-throated SparrowRock Creek Park
Cardinals and Buntings
Northern CardinalRock Creek Park
Blue GrosbeakKenilworth Park
Indigo BuntingRock Creek Park
BobolinkKenilworth Park
Blackbirds and Orioles
Red-winged BlackbirdKenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Eastern MeadowlarkKenilworth Park
Common GrackleRock Creek Park
Brown-headed CowbirdRock Creek Park
Baltimore OrioleRock Creek Park
Orchard OrioleAnacostia Park
House FinchFletcher's Boathouse
American GoldfinchRock Creek Park
Old World Sparrows
House SparrowRock Creek Park
Total Species Identified101
Heard Only20